Privilege: What’s Your Definition?

Privilege: What's Your Definition?

First, family history: my two brothers and I were raised by my mom, who after my father died leaving three kids under six, did everything she could to raise us, help us make good lives.  


My older brother John is a professor at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.Yes, the Georgetown. My younger brother Bill is a successful musician who since his early 20s has been in the music business doing producing, promoting and composing. Me? I have had three fulfilling careers: secondary school teacher of English; registered nurse in L&D and a major health department—and being a mom.

John’s high school work earned him a National Merit Scholarship. He applied to Georgetown and was immediately accepted, room, board, tuition covered. Bill caddied at a local country club through high school and with good grades won an Evans Scholarship to the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana. He lived in the Evans House, sponsored by the Western Golf Association.

I had three academic scholarships when I entered Mundelein College in Chicago, now part of Loyola University. Because of my economic status, I was accepted into the government’s Work-Study program to cover the rest of my tuition, room and board.


We were fortunate, even privileged. My mother was ecstatic, but she also expected this of us. She sent us to good high schools, provided us with the time and ability to study, stay on track. She encouraged us. But in the end: WE DID IT.

Did anyone pull strings for us, take our high school counselors or admittance counselors out to dinner? Did my mother ever beg or suggest that someone else take our ACT test or write a scholarly essay for us? No. And though those offences are bad, they are nothing in the wake of what we know has been happening in California—some of the schemes that the wealthy followed to get their kids into USC, Georgetown etc or on the crew team or the swim team when the student had not even pursued such sports in high school. WOW, I guess during the summer before starting crew or water polo, they could watch some movies or read a book about the sport. How embarrassing for a teen starting on the road to adulthood. How demeaning.


I will always remember the day my mother drove me to Central Campus in Chicago, part of the University of Illinois system, where she dropped me off to take my ACT. I was kind of terrified. Big campus, my sharpened pencils, my beating heart. No one with me. The proctors walking up and down the aisles as you try to get your brain to focus on one question and then the next and the next…And my score? It garnered me an Illinois State Scholarship. I also took the SAT and for that my scores were, as I remember, okay.

And when it was time for our children to follow suit, they too won scholarships, our oldest daughter also earning a full ride to Cornell University for her Master’s Degree.


No parent is perfect. When you are raising children and running a household and maybe working part time, you can mess up. You can forget to encourage your daughter to keep dancing or playing the piano. But your basic instinct is: LET THAT CHILD DECIDE. You don’t force.

Yes, my mother encouraged us to get good grades because she knew good grades meant scholarships and college, the only way it would happen for us. And I am certain  that if one of us didn’t get that scholarship right off, we would have attended community college and worked toward that goal. An excellent goal, a way to build toward a future THAT WE EARNED, that no one handed to us. That’s the way to start a life.

Here is what writer Robin Abcarian asks in the LA TIMES, of these parents who paved the pathway. Did you not have faith in your children? And…How could you gaslight your kids like this? Why weren’t your children’s own efforts enough for you? Why couldn’t you accept that your child wasn’t Yale material?”

Mental health counselors’ phones must be ringing and ringing as these kids try to deal with parents who basically were saying YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. One executive submitted an essay for his daughter about her nonexistent soccer career. Another created a story about his son being on the water polo team. The subtext: my child is a failure.

The gotcha: school counselors. Yes, they actually sat in their offices and read through these applications, feeling their heads explode: one school didn’t even have a water polo team–and yet there they were attached to the application: images of the student playing the sport–photoshopped by the parents. LIES, frightening, LIES.


 I know I still live in a world where I cheer on my adult children as they succeed in their lives—no matter what they do. I am proud of each of them. I support their decisions and their dreams. And I am already doing the same for my grandchildren.

But I need to have some major hope for the generations to come—that this scandal will teach a lesson. NO ONE SHOULD EVER BE ALLOWED TO OPERATE AWAY FROM THE LAW. OR THE TRUTH. Unfortunately, we encounter lies every day on social media. Truth has to exist in a free society. 

No one should be able to scam an accepted process because they have fame, money and the guts to disregard morality and do WHATEVER THEY DAMN PLEASE.

I wasn’t raised that way and neither were my children. And thanks to my husband for being the honest person he has always been.


Apparently in some households that’s what being taught. It is perfectly fine to lie to your children, lie to the government, bribe a tennis coach or have someone take a test for your kid. Chutzpah? You bet. Abcarian ends her column with this quote from one of those cheating parents:

“The more I think about this, it is outrageous! They have no business or legal right considering all the students privacy issues to be calling and challenging/questioning my son’s application.”

Hey, Man, you should have thought of that in the first place. Now it’s coming back to haunt you.

For more about how this scandal is affecting our society read: A Syllabus for the Ethically Challenged LA TIMES. March 17, 2019

Photo Credit: ABC Radio Nation


14 thoughts on “Privilege: What’s Your Definition?

  1. This scandal is outrageous! I initially thought the kids would flunk out once in college but then realized these parents wouldn’t allow that either. Buy them term papers, test takers, bribe instructors etc. The scandal is I think the tip of the iceberg in corruption in colleges and it is a disgrace.

    • Thanks, Haralee. You always have good insights and I agree with the negatives that could be awaiting us down the road.

  2. This scandal gave real insight into the truth of parents “pulling strings” for their kids. I shouldn’t be surprised, yet I am. Oh yeah, and outraged too.

    • Thanks, Barbara, as one person has commented, it’s the kids who lost a spot that would have been rightfully theirs that makes it even sadder.

  3. The scandal made people I work with, even those who are normally cynical, feel such outrage. These co workers have children in state colleges, who had to work hard to get there, who were true athletes, or true scholars (or both!) I don’t know how sorry I can feel for the sons and daughters of the parents who fully participated in this scam. Stuck in my mind is the girl who boasted on Instagram about not even wanting to be in college and her plans to party No studying for her and why should she?. But worst of all were the hundreds of thousands of followers this girl gathered while being an “influencer”. No shame there!

    • Ah that influencer thing. You can be an idiot and like it especially if you have followers. Thanks for posting.

    • Oh I so agree with you and to do this FOR YOUR KIDS, that gives them permission to do the same. Thanks for reading.

  4. My father died when I was 12 and mother and I didn’t have much money. I’d always been expected to make good grades and nothing changed after he died. I won a partial scholarship to Trinity University in San Antonio. What happened to pride in our children, and for children to be empowered and proud of themselves when they did well in school? In the case of movie stars and titans of business who bribed their children’s way into universities, it makes me wonder if their priorities were perhaps focused on their careers, instead of on helping their kids with their homework and encouraging them to participate in extra curricular activities other than Sephora.

    • Wow, you are so right. We need to always have our priorities in check when it comes to raising our children. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Well said. I admire you and your siblings for becoming successful the ethical way through honest, hard work. The current scandal brought to light a sickening situation that undermines the very essence of our education system. As adults we need to set a better example. After teaching 30 years, I find that more parents are making excuses for their kids and trying to cheat to “help” them get ahead, which in the end is a great disservice to future generations.

    • Thank you for your years of teaching and your insight. Yes, truth and hard work make good citizens. We fear losing our way otherwise. Beth

  6. I found the whole scandal to be disgusting and sad. I know a lot of people think the daughter who has a YouTube following is shallow and lame but she started a successful business as an influencer that she wanted to pursue instead of school. Not everyone is meant for college. It was her choice and college was her parent’s choice. Her business was ruined when her sponsors dropped her because her parents behaved like idiots. I don’t know how much the daughter participated in the ruse so I don’t want to blame her without knowing all the facts. I’ve heard she’s furious at her parents and probably embarrassed as hell. The damage that was done will be felt for a long time. Why would anyone take a chance of ruining their child’s life just for prestige?

    • These details reveal once again, that we have to give our children agency in the world. We cannot hold them up forever, either with money or with connections. Every person needs to make their own way.

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